Ed Spittle possessed the rare ability to affect the lives around him, to make the people surrounding him better. It’s a special gift.
Because when you can put that gift into practice, you make the world a better place. That’s the legacy that Spittle is leaving behind.
The world of Lebanon County sports is just a little bit of an emptier place, in light of the Northern Lebanon head softball coach’s passing in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 17, due to complications from COVID-19 and pneumonia. Spittle’s 76 years of life on earth was celebrated through memorial services on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, by those he had touched.
“I always thought he did a wonderful job of making something from nothing,” said Oriana Spittle, who was married to Ed for 51 years. “He always looked ahead. He never looked back. He was a very big encouragement to the girls. He told them, ‘If I can ever help you in any way, come to me and we can talk’.
“He affected thousands of lives, thousands,” continued Oriana Spittle. “We would go on a cruise and he could touch lives, just by talking to people and meeting them. Simply by eating dinner on a cruise ship. He always got the respect from his players. To this day, some of his former players still call him ‘Coach’.”
Spittle coached Northern Lebanon in the Vikings’ first two games of this season, before becoming ill with symptoms believed to be related to the Coronavirus in the early days of April. The Vikings were victorious in those two early-season contests, and since they have won six of their next seven games.
“I called him every day he was in the hospital,” said Oriana Spittle. “Then, the day the girls beat Donegal (April 7) I called him and said, ‘Ed, guess what. The girls beat Donegal.’ He said, ‘They did? What was the score?’ I said, ‘6-5’.
“He was very, very happy when he was around his family and friends,” Spittle continued. “But he was a completely different kind of happy when he was on the ball field. His philosophy was not just to go out on the field and throw the ball and hit the ball, he was a teacher, a mentor. He wanted to make sure his players knew the game of baseball and softball.”
“We started really well and had high expectations,” said Northern Lebanon senior third baseman Summer Bohr. “It’s definitely different without him there. We just figured he’d be back.
“We were more upbeat when Coach Spittle was there,” added Bohr. “He brought a fun vibe. We play our best for him now. I think we’re playing harder since.”
For more than 50 years, Spittle coached baseball and softball on various levels in Lebanon County, but mostly in the northern part of the county near his home in Jonestown. In 2017, at the age of 72, Spittle became the head coach of the Vikings, for a second time.
In his first three seasons as the Vikings’ head coach, Spittle led them to the District Three playoffs.
“Ed had a gift for teaching, of how to speak to the kids,” said Oriana Spittle. “He never shouted. Ed always saw the glass as half full, no matter what he did. His love for people and young people was incredible. He was wise in so many ways. We was very wise in life. He loved his life to the fullest.
“I was always so proud of him and what he did for those kids,” Spittle added. “He would set a goal, put his mind down to it, work hard, and he’d accomplish it. I know he had great expectations for the team this year, even though they’re young. They would play their hearts out for him.”
“I related to him really well,” said Bohr. “He always knew what to say. He related to everyone well. He was very funny. He was a great person. He made a great impact on the community. He was very personable.”
Before returning to coach the Vikings, Spittle was an assistant softball coach at Lebanon Valley College from 2005-10, and earlier coached baseball at LVC. Spittle began coaching little league baseball in Williamstown at the age of 16, but perhaps his greatest athletic accomplishment was leading the Jonestown Junior Legion baseball program to state championships in 1974, and then again in 1979.
In 2004, the junior legion baseball diamond in Jonestown was named in Spittle’s honor. In 2012, he was inducted into the central chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
“I think he was very proud of what he did with the Jonestown junior legion team and winning two state titles,” said Oriana Spittle. “I think the topper was that no one at Northern Lebanon had the knowledge and ability to build winning teams like he did. He was able to grab ahold of that first team, make them good ball players and continue to build good teams from one year to the next. Just because he was the coach of the varsity didn’t mean he didn’t know what was coming up.
“Ed was not a person to play a player because they were juniors or seniors,” continued Spittle. “If he had a freshman or a sophomore who were better players, they would play. He never showed favoritism. He played the kids who were willing to put forth the effort and give their all.”
“He’s definitely my best coach,” said Bohr. “He was old-school and he knew the game better than anyone I ever met. He was very knowledgeable of the game. When I first came up to the varsity, he didn’t care what grade I was in. He asked me, ‘What year are you leaving?'”
Ed Spittle, Jr. was born in Williamstown on August 3, 1944. He is survived by son Greg Spittle, daughter Kim Bashore and four grandchildren.
Spittle was a member of Jonestown United Methodist Church. Following 39 years of service, he retired from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer 4.
“He was a very loving husband, father and grandfather,” said Oriana Spittle, 72. “He would give his last dime to anyone in the family. He was generous. He was, by no means, a selfish individual. He was extremely honest. He was upstanding. He was always willing to help people. The one thing he loved to do was socialize.
“He was active,” Spittle added. “He did not let any grass grow under his feet. He was not a home body, not him. It was go, go, go. He was a very unique person. You don’t find many people with the attributes he had.”
“I think it was Saturday afternoon, and my mom called me,” said Bohr. “She said, ‘There’s something I need to tell you.’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me now. Wait till I come home.’ But I sort of knew what it was.
“I was very upset when I found out,” added Bohr. “I cried for a while. Then a couple of the girls and I went up to the field and hit, and we talked.”
After a few days in early April of Ed not feeling well, Oriana took him to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon. For awhile, Spittle seemed to be doing OK, but then he took a turn for the worst.
“I don’t know how to explain this whole thing,” said Oriana Spittle. “I know it’s (COVID-19) real. All I know is it’s going to be on his death certificate. For a man who wore a mask no matter where he went, and for him to end up in this condition, it makes me wonder how he contracted this.
“I have so many questions about this COVID-19 thing,” Spittle continued. “I’m not totally convinced masks do anything. I think if it’s in the air and it’s going to attack you, it’s going to attack you. They were saying it was COVID-19 and pneumonia. I have a problem with the science. I thought he did everything right.”
“It definitely has put a new perspective on things,” said Bohr, who lost her junior softball season to COVID-19 mitigation. “Before, I believed it, but I didn’t know anyone personally who passed away from it. Since Coach Spittle passed, now I wear a mask all the time. I’m more scared of it now.”
Ed Spittle was born to coach.